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As I was leaving the CHGO offices after Monday night’s show, I was stopped by Jim, one of our resident White Sox fans.
“Are you in a hurry?” he asked. I was heading home for dinner, made possible by that night’s game getting rained out, but I could field a quick query. “Why did they move Michael Kopech to the bullpen?”
Good question. And really, I could only muster one answer.
“I don’t know, man,” I said. “I can tell you why they said they did it. But I don’t know.”
I’m around this team often, just about every time they play at the corner of 35th and Shields, and I get to hear from the decision-makers on a regular basis. But the last few days, a team that continually confounds its fans has confounded even me.
Not only has Kopech been shuttled from the rotation to the bullpen for the final weeks of the season, but Oscar Colás — the guy who won the everyday gig in right field during spring training — has been sent to the minor leagues to finish the 2023 campaign as a Charlotte Knight rather than as a big leaguer.
“I don’t know, man.”
The White Sox painted a picture, talking to reporters over the weekend in Detroit, of a mission to get Kopech to finish the season on a positive note. Those have been few and far between for a guy who’s had just an awful season this year. His ERA is north of 5.00, he’s allowed nearly 30 homers, and he’s walked an AL-high 90 batters. That, obviously, is not good.
But the White Sox, somewhat desperately, need Kopech. They can’t just declare this experiment a failure and move on to the next guy. Because there is no next guy.
Kopech and Dylan Cease, who has struggled mightily in his own right this year, are the only two pitchers penciled into the starting rotation for next year. Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn were shipped out of town at the trade deadline. Mike Clevinger’s return would only happen if both sides agree to pick up their half of a mutual option. Jesse Scholtens and Touki Toussaint have been fine but far from impressive enough to generate confidence in them as pitchers who can make 30-plus starts for a contending team in 2024, which the White Sox supposedly plan to be. That puts an awful lot on the to-do list for new general manager Chris Getz as he tries to cobble together a rotation for next season.
Pedro Grifol, in those comments from the weekend, insisted the White Sox still view Kopech as a starter for 2024 but that they want to get a guy who’s struggled nearly every time out some “wins” before he heads into the offseason. In his first relief appearance — something frustrated fans have clamored for, perhaps remembering his bullpen-based success from 2021 — he faced five batters, walking one and giving up a homer to another.
New job, same problems.
Given the White Sox need Kopech to start next season, what is the purpose of this move? I don’t know. It strikes as incredibly odd, if for no other reason, because Grifol has described this season as a “developmental year” for Kopech. If he’s still developing into the major league starter the White Sox need him to be, why would a month’s worth of his development take place outside of the rotation?
It’s not to say the White Sox’ stated reasons for the move aren’t valid. Maybe Kopech finds some of those “wins” as a reliever and benefits this winter from finishing the year in a more positive fashion. But this just seems weird.
Of course, as anyone who’s followed this season knows, there’s frequently something weirder around the corner with this White Sox team, and the demotion of Colás was enough to keep everyone scratching their heads.
Colás, like Kopech, has not been good this season. And while Kopech has merely struggled to find results, Colás has accompanied his struggles at the plate with an unending parade of mental mistakes in the outfield and on the base paths. Grifol had made discussing Colás’ mistakes a near nightly feature of his postgame media sessions. It was clear he was not playing like a major league caliber player.
And so in that regard, it made perfect sense that he needed to return to the minor leagues — for the second time this season — to improve on that front and several others.
But with this few games left? Only 11 games remained on the Knights’ schedule when the White Sox made the move, which came with just 19 games remaining on their own schedule and the day after they were officially eliminated from postseason contention. The timing is what makes this just totally bizarre.
Colás played three and a half months of big league ball this year after winning the right-field position battle in the spring. According to Grifol, none of the mistakes Colás made came as a surprise to the White Sox, who were confident leaving Arizona that they could coach them out of him. They couldn’t. The mistakes never stopped. And now Grifol, with an eliminated team, was left to explain that Colás’ mistakes were becoming a hindrance to the White Sox winning games.
That, supposedly, is why Colás is better off finishing the season in Triple-A.
“We can try more things down there and not compromise a major league game,” Grifol said Monday. “We can do more things there. It’s plain and simple. That’s the way it’s always been. Even though we’re 30 under and we’re officially eliminated, we’re still trying to win major league games.”
They could finish the season 19-0. Not that they shouldn’t try to do just that, but they’re not going anywhere but home come Oct. 2.
“Sometimes the environment up here creates a level of anxiety that doesn’t allow the player to maximize his capabilities and potential here,” Grifol continued. “And when you send him down, it kind of frees him up a little bit, it lets him do more things in a more controlled environment. That happens a lot. At this time, we made this decision so he can go down there and finish the season, hopefully, on a strong note.”
Colás might not be quite the lynchpin to 2024 that Kopech is, as the White Sox’ dramatic lack of starting-pitching options means Kopech needs to stick around and needs to iron out his issues. But Colás was all but crowned the team’s starting right fielder last November, keeping Rick Hahn’s front office from adding at that position. Getz might now have to put right field higher up on his to-do list as he tries to craft a contender and quick. That is, after all, the reason Jerry Reinsdorf gave him the job.
Colás is obviously not to be completely written off. He was just a rookie this year. But Grifol sees serious steps that need to be taken for Colás to become the player the White Sox need him to be by Opening Day 2024. If he can’t take those steps, someone else will need to be playing right field.
“It all depends on him and his mind and how well he can control the pressures up here and how fast he can slow the game down a little bit and let the game come to him,” Grifol said. “We need him to completely clean up his whole game. I’m talking about base-running, defensively, these are things I’ve spoken about all year. These are not new.
“It’s important for us as an organization to keep attacking these things. I can’t reiterate this enough. He has skills that can really impact a winning team. We have to work on the details.”
Can he do all that in just one offseason?
“I think he can,” Grifol said. “It’s important for him to play winter ball. I’ve seen guys really get a lot accomplished in winter ball and come back really confident. These things in the big leagues can help him, as well. Going down can help him, realizing how important it is to do some of the little things we’re asking him to do.
“Sometimes things like this need to happen to reassure you these things are important to the organization.”
Colás, though not to the extent of some of the more experienced players around him, is one of many White Sox that Reinsdorf has already invested in, signed as an international free agent. After some pro experience in Japan, Colás was expected to be a fast-mover through the system, and he was. But by the time he reached the majors, it was evident he didn’t have the skills — the understanding of the game’s fundamentals — necessary to stick.
And so much like the questions about Kopech’s outlook for 2024 keep getting bigger, so do the questions about Colás, to the point where it’s worth wondering if Colás has any spot on this team, at least when it comes to Getz’s planning for next season.
The answers to those questions, of course, won’t be available for a long time.
The White Sox have bet on the solutions to those players’ woes being somewhat strange moves here with just a handful of games remaining in the season.
“I don’t know, man.”
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